What is art? 30 famous definitions

The question, “What is art?” has been asked by philosophers, authors, musicians and visual artists of all media. The discussion has been sometimes analytical, sometimes passionate, sometimes humorous.

Here are 30 of my favourite definitions:

1. “Art completes what nature cannot bring to a finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature’s unrealised ends.”

(Aristotle, 284-322 bc)

2. “Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.”

(Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519)

3. “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

(Michelangelo, 1475-1564)

4. “Art is everywhere you look for it; hail the twinkling stars for they are God’s careless splatters.”

(El Greco, 1541-1614)

5. “Art is a mediator of the unspeakable.”

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832)

6. “What is art? Nature concentrated.”

(Honore de Balzac, 1799-1850)

7. “Art is a goddess of dainty thought, reticent of habit, abjuring all obtrusiveness, proposing in no way to better others. She is, withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only – having no desire to teach.”

(James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903)

8. “Art isn’t something you marry. It’s something you rape.”

(Edgar Degas, 1834-1907)

9. “Art is a harmony parallel with nature.”

(Paul Cezanne, 1839-1906)

10. “A work of art is a corner of nature seen through a temperament.”

(Emile Zola, 1840-1929)

11. “Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900)

12. “Art is a mad search for individualism.”

(Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903)

13. “Art is a line around your thoughts.

(Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918)

14. “Art is the signature of civilization.”

(Jean Sibelius, 1865-1957)

15. “Art is when things appear rounded.”

(Maurice Denis, 1870-1943)

16. “Art isn’t everything. It’s just about everything.”

(Gertrude Stein, 1874-1964)

17. “Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an aesthetic end.”

(James Joyce, 1882-1941)

18. “Art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth.”

(Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968)

19. “Art seems to me to be a state of soul more than anything else.”

(Marc Chagall, 1887-1985)

20. “Art is the escape from personality.”

(T.S. Eliot, 1888-1965)

21. “Art is science made clear.”

(Jean Cocteau, 1889-1963)

22. “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

(Karl Marx/Berthold Brecht, 1898-1956)

23. “Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth.”

(Theodor W. Adorno, 1903-1969)

24. “Art is manipulation without intervention.”

(Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010)

25. “Art is art. Everything else is everything else.”

(Ad Reinhardt, 1913-1967)

26. “Art is an experience, not an object.”

(Robert Motherwell, 1915-1991)

27. “Art is accusation, expression, passion.”

(Günther Grass, b. 1927)

28. “Art is anything you can get away with.”

(Andy Warhol, 1928-1987)

29. “Art is an effort to make you walk a half an inch above ground.”

(Yoko Ono, b. 1933)

30. “Art is visceral and vulgar – it’s an eruption.”

(Georg Baselitz, b. 1938)

Ad Reinhardt Quote

Albrecht Altdorfer, Kreuzigung
Auguste Renoir, Near the lake

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